In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide

In the aftermath of the Armenian Genocide
Film depicts a fragile history after tragedy
Information Minister Samaha said more such documentaries should be
made on the history of Lebanon’s various communities

By Nada Raad
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A documentary on the Armenian community in Lebanon that airs this
Friday evening on the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) will
shed light on the history of their presence here, which, according to
the producer Carmen Labaki, began well before the 1915 Genocide.

The documentary, “Armenians in Lebanon” was filmed in Armenia, Turkey,
Syria, and Lebanon in an attempt to illustrate the Armenian history
and show their “dispersal” following the 1915 Genocide, which left
more than a million dead.

Co-produced by the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International
(LBCI), the 85-minute documentary will be broadcast on LBC on Friday
after the 8 p.m. news report, and one day ahead of the Armenian
Genocide Remembrance Day on April 24.

Labaki, who spent one year working on the film, said that she decided
to shoot the documentary after realizing that Armenian history is
unknown by many here, including some Armenians. Labaki, who previously
produced two documentaries – “Brazil in Lebanon,” released in 1997,
and “France in Lebanon,” released in 2001 – said that the scene which
most touched her concerns the shooting of the Bedouin Armenians living
in the Syrian Desert.

“Every Bedouin Armenian living in Syria has a story to tell about his
parents’ plight,” Labaki said during the documentary’s release on
Monday atthe Haigazian University in Beirut. “But the story told by
this second generation does not have the same impact as if it were
told by the generation who lived the genocide,” she added.

The documentary presents Armenian nationals who were uprooted from
their country, their culture and their families and friends, but who
can still list the names of family members. In Syria, many Armenians
are now Muslim Bedouins and have Arab names because they were adopted
by Syrian families.

The documentary shows locations where Armenians were killed and
tortured by the Turks. During the Genocide some were killed in Armenia
while others were killed during a march from Turkey to Syria. On April
24, 1915, after the Armenians in the army were disarmed and then
killed, the political and intellectual leaders meet the same fate.

After this event, the remaining Armenians were told they would be
relocated by marching them to concentration camps in the desert
between Jerablus and Deir ez-Zor where they were left without food and
water to starve under the sun.

In a technique common to many documentaries, the producer used
contrasting footage, with scenes of real footage in black and white
abutting contemporary shots of the genocide march.

“We went to Marqadeh in Deir ez-Zor to shoot the documentary. When I
dug in the sand I found bones … from the genocide,” Labaki said.

The documentary was also shot in Shadadeh, an area located in Deir
ez-Zor, where around 300,000 Armenians were put in a cave and burned.

In Syria, many Armenians live in Aleppo, while others left to come to
Lebanon. According to the documentary, the Armenian presence in
Lebanon dates from 1741, when the Armenian Patriarchy was established
in Bzemmar. Following the Genocide, Armenians arrived from Syria and
Turkey in Anjar where some died from cold and illness.

Currently, the Armenian community is concentrated in Bourj Hammoud and
they are well-known for their professionalism in commerce, jewelry
design, carpet making, and crafts.

In 1934, the Armenian community was allowed to vote, and in 1966 some
members assumed ministerial posts.

Currently, the Armenian community is active through three political
parties: the Tashnak Party, the Ramgavar Party, and the Hentchak
Party. In Beirut, four MPs out of the 18 elected members are from the
Armenian community.

The documentary shows that before 1975, members of the Armenian
community here considered themselves as “Armenians living in Lebanon,”
while today they say, “We are Lebanese from an Armenian origin.”
Nonetheless, many members of the Armenian community are currently
returning to their homeland. “Mount Araratis waiting for them,” the
documentary said.

“We need memory in this country,” Information Minister Michel Samaha
said at the opening. He added that such a documentary should be done
on all the ethnic groups in the country to allow the Lebanese to learn
more about each other.